The furor surrounding the Village of Great Neck’s long-gestating revitalization project for Middle Neck Road and East Shore Road reached a fever pitch at the Jan. 15 Board of Trustees meeting, as a misunderstanding of a single word on the agenda led many residents to assume that the controversial project would be presented and perhaps even voted upon that evening. However, according to Mayor Pedram Bral, that was most assuredly not the case.
“We will not be voting on anything related to that project this evening,” he said.
The agenda for the meeting had stated that trustees would be “accepting”—meaning simply taking possession of, without having actually read it yet—a report from VHB Engineering, the consultant firm that is studying Middle Neck Road and East Shore Road to propose possible zoning changes, as well as heading up an environmental impact study, with the ultimate goal of revitalizing Great Neck’s downtown area.
However, many residents in the packed Village Hall that evening misinterpreted “accepting” as meaning that the board was actually approving the findings of the report without public input. Anger fueled by this misunderstanding led to a delay to the official start of the meeting due to several shouting matches between village officials and constituents, many of whom were quite vocal about any changes to population or traffic density VHB’s report might cause if adopted and acted upon.
“There were rumors, and I’m not sure where they came from, that we would be having VHB holding a presentation tonight, and while we would have liked that, that is not the case,” said Village Clerk and Treasurer Joe Gill. “We’re actually just getting delivery of the report, so we actually haven’t seen the final report yet, just the drafts leading up to it. The intention is to make this all public for everyone so they can review the information in the VHB report. Everyone will have two weeks to review that information so they can come to our next meeting on Feb. 5 with their ideas, comments, questions and concerns.”
The report is currently available for viewing by the public on the Village of Great Neck’s website. VHB representatives will be offering a presentation of the findings in their report at the village’s Feb. 5 Board of Trustees meeting.
Several residents, noting that they were against any significant changes made to the village that might impact their way of life, demanded the right to vote on the measure once it became public. However, Gill shot this notion down, stating that the village trustees were elected in order to make these sorts of decisions on the behalf of their constituents.
“This is not a public referendum on the potential changes…the trustees will be making the decision on this,” he said. “You elected your public officials, and they will review the information and the public comments…you will have plenty of time to voice your concerns.”
Bral assured residents that once trustees had gotten a chance to look over VHB’s report, it would be publicly posted on the village’s official website—likely by the morning of Jan. 16—with a public discussion to be held on its contents at the next board meeting on Feb. 5.
“The report will be on our website…read it, question, write those questions down, and bring them to the meeting on the 5th,” he said. “You need to understand the proposal, and then if you say you’re still against it I’ll respect it.”
Village Attorney Peter Bee noted that VHB would eventually hold a presentation on their new report, and it was unlikely the Board of Trustees would be voting to approve anything at the Feb. 5 meeting, giving residents even more time to digest VHB’s findings and formulate their opinions—both for and/or against them—further.
However, Bral grew visibly upset at points during the heated back-and-forth comments, noting early on that the meeting had not even officially begun, nor the Pledge of Allegiance recited. He also slammed unnamed members of the community for allegedly spreading what he said was false and misleading information about the project, stating that anything the public had read on social media or via email was likely “fake” as VHB’s report had not yet even been reviewed by trustees, let alone the public at large.
“The things that are going around on the Internet are simply not true. You’re saying already that you don’t like this report, but you don’t even know what’s in it. You actually may benefit significantly from this. We’re not shoving anything down anyone’s throat,” he said. “This presentation addresses all of the things that people have complained to me about since the day I became mayor…that the stores are empty, the streetscape is horrible, sidewalks are not capped, the buildings are not welcoming and that there are no pedestrian walkways. All of those things are being addressed, and yet you people come in based on some fearmongering nonsense that has been distributed out there, and not one single bit, not one iota of it, is true.”
An earlier draft of a report presented by VHB last year noted a lack of cohesive identity among Middle Neck Road and East Shore Road buildings, parking that was not utilized effectively, numerous vacant buildings and businesses, and a greater need for more affordable housing options in the Great Neck area to prevent young and old people from moving away. VHB initially recommended allowing potential building height in the downtown area to increase to as high as five stories, easing parking restrictions, finding solutions to increase safety at various intersections and increase retail and residential development.
The new report, accepted by the Board of Trustees at this meeting, was revised based on feedback from the earlier draft. Read the new report at www.greatneckvillage.org/news_detail_T2_R198.php.